India has a long tradition of dramatic forms dating as early as Mauryan times (c. 324–c. 200 BCE). The Natya Sastra of Bharata (flourished second century CE), a treatise on dance and acting, became the bible of Indian performers. Regional folk traditions like kathakali, yatra, and yakshagana enriched Indian drama. Indian theater as it exists today, however, appeared in India in the nineteenth century, as did European drama.
During the nineteenth century traditional Indian plays were written and acted to highlight the evils of society and the consequences of British rule. There were also dramatic presentations of plays translated from Western sources, particularly Shakespeare. The National Theatre of Calcutta, the first public theater in India, was created in 1872. Itinerant Parsi drama companies also attracted large crowds due to the plays' humor and grand spectacle. The Krishnakumari (1861) of Madhusudan Dutt, the Niladarpan (1860) of Dinabandhu Mitra, the Kanchi Kaveri (1880) of Ramshankar Ray, and the Lalita Dukh Darsak (1864) of Ranchodbhai Udayram were some notable nineteenth-century plays.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, powerful dramatic literature began to appear not only in English, but in many Indian languages. The playwrights Sri Aurobindo, T. P. Kailasham, and Harindranath Chattopadhyay wrote in English. Iswar Chandra Nanda wrote plays in the Panjabi tongue, highlighting social problems. Imtiaz Ali's Anarkali was much acclaimed. P. Sambandha Mudaliyar brought new direction to the Tamil-language stage. Annapurna Theater kept the Oriya-language dramas alive. The Gayopakhyana of Chilakamarti Lakshminarasimgha was well received by Telugu-speaking audiences. K. M. Munshi, Jayashankar Prasad, and D. L. Ray wrote plays in Gujarati, Hindi, and Bengali, respectively. The Rakta Karabi of Rabindranath Tagore is a landmark in Indian theater.
In 1943, the Indian People's Theatre Association began a progressive trend encompassing all of India. In the 1950s, new names came on the scene. Badal Sircar earned fame by introducing new forms. Instead of writing in regional languages, Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar, Mohan Rakesh, and Adya Rangachari became all-India figures. Ghashiram Kotwal by Vijay Tendulkar was acclaimed throughout the country.Page 288 | Top of Article The Kendirya Sangeet Natak Academy and National School of Drama gave new direction to Indian drama. B. V. Karnath, Habib Tanvir, and Rattan Thiyyam directed many modern plays. The Bitter Harvest by Manjula Padmanvan received international acclaim. By then there was a strong interplay between drama and film; many well-known film actors got their start on the stage.
Patit Paban Mishra
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